Chaco Canyon – Penasco Blanco


From the Supernova pictograph we follow a “lightly” traveled and sparsely marked circuetous trail to Penasco Blanco, which by far, for us was one of our favorites of Chaco Canyon.  We could have spent the entire day here.  Constantly we survey the cliff and rock faces for petroglyphs and/or pictographs.

img_20180919_134550296We are rewarded with one that we interpret having to do with bears.

img_20180919_140016184We pick our way up to the mesa top of the canyon and ruins of Penasco Blanco.  Per the Park Service no excavation has taken place, and the site is “as is” from when it was first surveyed.


We have this site to ourselves and explore to our heart’s content.


This is not the only site on this mesa

Atop this mesa we all of the sudden have “4G” service.  Paul calls our kids, and checks in with them.  img_20180919_144018523Crumbling walls of similar construction to Pueblo Bonito stand proudly above the mounds of rubble.


Paul finds a perfect doorway.  Several Kivas of various sizes and partially filled with dirt and debris are evident within the compound’s perimeter walls.  Obvious midden sites strewn with shards of ancient pottery surround this site.

img_20180919_151316970I explore the outskirts, where erosion from 100’s of years of rain and wind have laid bare many pieces of ancient “trash”.  For all practical purposes it’s an archeological easter egg hunt.

I examine the particularly interesting pieces I find, and then leave them where I found them.  On the walls of Penasco Blanco we eat our sparse lunch and toast beers that Paul had squirreled away inside his pack.

img_20180919_144546622A perfect picnic!  Soon it is time to head back to the road where we got dropped off, so we can catch a ride back to the campground, or walk the additional 5 miles back to our campsite.


We take a “shortcut”, that leaves us slightly bloodied and muddy.  One would think we’d know better by now.  img_20180919_165422879We arrive just in time for my dad to pick us up.  He had spent the day exploring the closer sites.  Once back at our campsite, we exchange stories and discoveries.  Once again, no sense staying up to see a dark sky, because there is none, as it is filled with the moon.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Chaco Canyon, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Mini Adventures, National Parks, New Mexico, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Chaco Canyon

Simply amazing, and worth the time and wear and tear on your vehicle. In the morning we are treated to a spectacular sunrise, followed by slight overcast, which is a pleasant surprise and will prove to be beneficial for the day’s exploration.


While we only were able to spend two days here, we certainly got an eyefull. As there was so much to see/experience, I will divide our exploration of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park into “sections”. There are at least nine sites in which to explore: Una Vista; Hungo Pavi; Casa Rinconda Community; Chetro Ketl; Pueblo Bonito; Pueblo del Arroyo; Pueblo Alto Complex; Kin Kletso; Casa Chiquitta; Peñasco Blanco. During our trip, we visited the following sites: Pueblo Bonito, Penasco Blanco, Kin Kletso and the Pueblo Alto Complex. This post will cover Pueblo Bonito. But first, a little history of this area and its historic/cultural significance.


Evidence of peoples inhabiting this canyon area (once under the sea), date back to the 500’s CE. Nearly 400 miles of “pre-historic roads” lead to, or from, this canyon. It wasn’t until the 800’s that serious building of structures appeared to begin, with the 900-1100, marking a great civilization with numerous stone, communal buildings having been erected which lead archeologist and anthropologist (in conjunction with Pueblo peoples tribal oral histories) to believe that Chaco Canyon was a “hub of regional cultures”. It was a center for trade from as far south as central Mexico and far west as the Pacific Ocean. Ceremonies and construction/artisan techniques “originating” from this “center of civilization” are evident in the Navajo and Pueblo clans in the “four-corners” area. As with our visit to Bandelier National Monument (from where it is also believed the clans of the Chacoan People migrated to), lack of water, enough sustain the “masses”, appears to be the reason for the “abandoment” of, and migration from, these sites.

After wandering through the highly informative Visitor’s Center, whose exhibits are in the process of becoming updated/enhanced, we headed to Pueblo Bonito, built in “stages” between the mid-800’s to early 1100’s.

Pueblo Bonito 2018.jpg

So far, it is the largest “great house” ( discovered in this canyon, so far).  In places it stood four stories high, and had at least 600 rooms and 40 Kivas (of varying sizes).

It’s walls are nearly 2 feet thick, straight as an arrow, with perfectly square doorways. Mud motar bonds blocks of readiliy available sandstone rocks.

Some walls are perfectly straight and “smooth” to the touch, even though said walls were plastered with adobe mud and “painted”. Repeating designs using large slabs of sandstone “chinked” with smaller stones placed in the motar, mark particular periods of building, and obviously masonary style and/or technique(s).

Remains of 6″ diameter logs, “imported” from some 60 miles away are imbeded in the stone, marking supports for floors and/or ceiling-roofs.


Wandering this site has elements of the “Winchester Mystery House” in San Jose, California, or even “Hearst Castle” in San Simeon, California, in that no one really knows the absolute purpose/use of each “room”. Through remains and artifacts found in several rooms, of this and some 2000 other sites in this canyon, it is known that rooms served as pens for domesticated turkeys and rabbits, as well as for the making of pottery, clothing, jewelry and general storage.

We wander over, upon and through Pueblo Bonito. The fact that it’s still standing to some extent is a testament to the craftsmanship. The structure was “D” shaped, as were most in this area with an orientation of the face of the buildings to the south, on an East/West axis, in order to gain the most daily sunlight.


A view of Pueblo Bonito from the cliff-top , on the next day’s hike

From here we head down to the trail that begins our “Where’s Waldo” of petroglyphs trail search.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Chaco Canyon, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Mini Adventures, National Parks, New Mexico, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Los Alamos – “Atomic City”


Los Alamos is a quaint, and during work hours appears to be a “sleepy” city.  If it were not for J. Robert Oppenheimer having vacationed in New Mexico in the 1920’s, and there being a “ready made facility” for immediate housing at the all-boys Los Alamos Ranch School,  this city and its significance to the world would be mute.  Per capita, this city’s inhabitants have to be the largest collection of ridiculously smart people in the world.  The Los Alamos National Laboratory (The Lab), and the Department of Energy (DOE) being the prominent employers.  It was not until we entered WWII, and a urgent letter penned by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt, about the Nazi regime’s research and closing possibility of creating a nuclearized weapon, that the US became serious about “beating” the Nazis, and weaponizing nuclear energy.  Hence the Manhattan Project and the “birth” of Los Alamos, home of Project “Y” (the weapons portion of the Manhattan project).  Los Alamos was not the only “secret” research facility, as there were other research sites located around the country in Oakridge Tennessee and Hanford Washington, to name a few, all involved in the Manhattan Project.  Incidently, the Project’s name originates from the location (Manhattan, New York) where the “mission” was crafted.  Did you know that two scientists (Harry Daghlian/1945 and Louis Slotin/1946) died from radiation exposure at Los Alamos, and two years prior to that (also related to the Manhattan Project) three others died in an explosion at a Philadelphia Navy Yard .  The Navy yard deaths were not attributed to the cloud of (low level, but toxic) uranium gas (that actually contributed to their deaths) because of the secrecy of the Manhattan Project.  It’s funny how we all know about Three Mile Island, and obviously Fukushima but I’m pretty sure most do not know about Los Alamos or another so named Atomic City, and/or Arco City in Idaho.   Needless to say radioactive material is not to be treated lightly.  The inception of the Manhattan Project to combat the very real threat from the Nazi scientists could easily be considered the “birth” of the nuclear arms race.  The devastation of the bombs, developed at Los Alamos, put an end to WWII.


Little Boy (replica)

Ideally, the first and smaller gun-type fission bomb (Little Boy, August 6, 1945) “should have been enough”, however the Japanese Generals refused to surrender,

so three days later (August 9,1945) a second larger implosion-type fission bomb (Fat Man) was detonated over Nagasaki, effectively ending WWII on all fronts.  Had neither of the two NOT done the trick, we were set for an all out invasion in November of 1945, wherein hundreds of thousands of soldiers (on both sides), as well as significantly more civilians would have, in all probability, died.  Ideally this is the first and the last time such devestating weaponry will be used.  There is plenty of history to examine at Los Alamos.  During the Manhattan project time period, all who worked at Los Alamos were known only by a number and all who lived and worked there had the same mailing address (P.O. Box 1663), and wore picture I.D.’s (no names) with their job title on color coded badges that demonstrated their particular level of “access” throughout the town.  It is said that Sears and Roebuck (that resident workers of Los Alamos ordered most of their supplies from) got suspicious when several baby bassinets were sent to the same address.  Babies born at Los Alamos, during this time period, had PO BOX 1663 listed as their place of birth.  Secrecy was EVERYTHING, but you can learn all about it now at the Bradbury Science Museum.  It not only chronicles the history of the Manhattan Project as it pertains to the Los Alamos site, but also the current studies and current advances cultivated at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, that has partnered with the museum.  The website is also especially interesting, if you want to remotely get your “nerd” on, as it pertains to anything radioactive.  The Bradbury Science Museum is more than about the Manhattan Project as it has four galleries:

Defense (involving Global Security), History (particularly that of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project), a Research Gallery (Science serving society) and the TechLab, in which I could have spent the whole day feeding my inner “nerd”, and testing my knowledge (no pictures of the  TechLab…too busy “playing” with stuff).  This museum was the only place with historic significance that we were able to visit and be able to make it to Chaco Canyon before night fall.  Even so, our brains hurt by the time we left the museum.  A return visit, a must, as well as the remaining historical sites in the city.

From Los Alamos, it is about a 3 hour drive to the exit (rd. 7900) off the NM 550 to the turn-off (rd. 7950) to Chaco Canyon, or its proper name, Chaco Culture National Historical Park.


Up until the 7950, the road is paved, and then 14 miles out from the park, the road turns to a washboard riddled dirt road.


When we arrive the visitor center is closed, but seeing we have reservations (a must!) we check in with the camphost for direction to our site.  Behind our campground are readily visible ruins from the inhabitants of Chaco canyon.  Ironically, there is a Ranger talk that evening, on the “Night Sky”.  Chaco Cultural National Historic Park is an UNESCO site and an offical International Dark Sky Park.  Even so, we decide to pass…the moon has gotten bigger and brighter.

Time to sleep and prep for the morning and more exploration.  As we settle into bed, the sounds of elk buggeling in the distance is our evening’s lullaby.



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Bandelier National Monument

Seeing it was still rather warm when we went to bed, we had left all the windows in the camper, to include the overhead sky-window, wide open. We awoke to an unusually brisk morning, with the outdoor thermometer reading 43°. No wonder I slept so well. Hot coffee, and a dash over to the restroom to plug in my nearly depleted phone battery was immediately in order. It seems that as soon as we pulled into Bandelier my phone’s battery decided to suck itself dry, which caused a bit O’ panic, not because I need to be “connected”, but because my phone is my main method of capturing our adventures. While I still carry a notebook in which to write (back up plan), I prefer to use my phone as somehow my thumbs have gotten significantly faster than actual handwriting…or at least legible handwriting. My phone is also past it’s two year “lifespan” of what I believe is a conspiracy of “planned obsolescence” with the phone companies, who know pretty much they have you by the short and curlies. But I digress.

So, back to the day’s adventure.

In the midst of drinking our coffee, we spy movement toward the back of our campsite. It’s deer! Quite a few, in fact, not more than 25 yards from us. We watch as they run and frolick back and forth, the does “teasing” the sole handsomely adorned buck (still in velvet), who is literally “chasing tail”. We narrate, as if we have our own NatGeo show, for some reason…in an accent. What are the chances we picked this campsite, and are treated to such a display of nature in “motion”. It doesn’t get much better than this. After a lite breakfast, we fill our Osprey water bladders for the day’s exploration of Bandelier. When using water bladders in our “day packs”, I prefer the *Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs. They have a hard plastic backing that maintains the bladder’s shape, so it’s not so “lumpy” against your back, especially the small of your back. I am also particularly fond of the magnetic mouth piece. No need to search blindly for the nozzel.

(*FYI, I receive no compensation for products I hightlight. The link(s) I provide for products are merely for your perusal. I normally link to REI, mainly as it is my “go-to” store for most “outdoor” gear purchases, as I have the luxury (and curse) of having not one, but two stores nearby…and I like their shipping and return policy.)

img_20180927_215050996Bandelier National Monument is a 33,750 acre park, adjacent the city of Los Alamos which is located on the Pajarito Mesa, and surrounded by the Santa Fe National Forest, and in its NorthWest corner, Valles Caldera National Preserve. Bandelier was designated a National Monument in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson. This now designated area, first came to prominence and attention due to its namesake, a Swiss “self-taught” anthropologist, Adolph F.A. Bandelier, who “discovered”, explored and documented the canyon dwellings in 1880. The canyon’s dwellings had long since been “abandoned”, having been inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo people up untill the 1500’s, whereupon it is said that they moved into villages along the Rio Grande, because of a sustained drought. Nevermind that the local Cochiti Pueblo people took him there/here, but I’m glad they did, otherwise sites like these would never have been chronicled, studied and/or preserved.

This morning we will take the Frey Trail, a 2mile, 534 ft descent into Frijoles Canyon where we will peruse a sampling of Ancestral Pueblo people’s dwellings. After the passing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which protects cultural and natural resources, Judge Abbott, in 1907, built the “Ranch of the 10 Elders” in the Frijoles Canyon where he acted as the “caretaker” of the archeological sites. The ranch was later run by a Mrs. Frey (1925-33). The trail we walk was the only route, for supplies and access into the canyon, prior to the CCC buliding a road in 1933, and so is aptly named for Mrs. Frey.


While we trotted down the trail, my father stayed behind to “organize things” (read…eat a bigger breakfast and most likely take a nap), saying he would meet us later at the visitor center via the park shuttle. Off we trod, over a well worn and established trail with obvious “improvements” courtesy of the Civilan Conservation Corps (CCC). We are constantly amazed at how hearty, lasting and vast these “signature”contributions of the CCC has made with regard to our National Parks. As we toddle along, the descent is gradual, and it is early enough that we essentially have the park to ourselves. As we peer into the depths of the canyon, its ecosystem is in stark contrast to the rust colored, sheer cliffs, from whence we we came. It is remeniscient of our trip to Aravipa Canyon in Arizona. Narrow leaf Cottonwoods, Ponderosa pines, Water Birch and Yucca plants (to name a few), along with assorted other healthy green vegetation line the canyon floor which is bisected by the year long flowing Frijoles Creek, that is currently meandering at a placid pace.


The remains of a partially excavated round-shaped Pueblo archeological site, we later learn is called Tyuonyi (Qu-weh-nee), beckons below our masterfully maintained trail. When we reach the canyon bottom, we have a decision to make. Go left and head to the Visitors Center to retrieve a walking guide pamphlet and/or seek out a Ranger led tour. Or, right turn, toward the “Long House” which is of hand built/carved cliff dwellings, and explore on our own, where we will later compare our observations and subsequent “theories/assumptions”, with those of the professionals…at the Visitor’s Center. A right turn it is, namely because we spy a Ranger led “pod” of people just leaving the Visitor’s Center a 1/2 mile away.

We walk upon the paved pathway that hugs the edges of what remains of the 800′ long ancient “condominium complex”. Perfectly level and hewn holes indicate where wooden logs were placed to support roofs and/or multi-level floors.

If you look and listen real closely, the remains of the stone and Adobe “bricks”, and remaining aging petroglyphs and pictographs enable your mind’s eye to fill in the “blanks”, and like a “time-machine” you are transported to a “fully” reconstructed 3D imagine of the Ancestral Pueblo people going about their daily routine. Past the Long House, is trail that leads to the Alcove House, that includes a reconstructed Kiva (believed to be a ceremonial structure).

To reach the structure a 140 ft ascent via 4 wooden ladders is required. It is apparent that ladders where a common functional and necessary accoutrement for the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, who I’m sure developed the ability to adroitly scramble up said ladders, hands free, with little to no effort or trepidation, similar to when I was kid and we played “roof tag” by running upon, 2×4 topped, 8ft tall wooden fences. I couldn’t do that now if you paid me…well maybe after significant practice. On second thought, Nope. Wouldn’t/couldn’t do it.

Upon making it to the Alcove House, there is a reinforced/repaired small Kiva and while you can’t venture into the Kiva, an interpretive panel explains it’s interior structure and contents found upon its discovery. Our timing thus far has been impecible. Just as we are done with our perusal, the “pod” of people arrive at the foot of the bottom ladders.


Up they begin to amble as we wait our turn to head down. Once down, we make our way toward the Visitor’s Center on a flat and easy trail. Evidence of a major monsoonal flow with left-over debris from flooding is strewn on the edges of the trail.


While the creek is but a trickle now, it’s route shows a much higher and “regular” volume, whereby the Ancestral Pueblo people most likely had “water-front” property for a good portion of their 400+ years (1150-1550) of inhabiting this canyon. We reach the Visitor’s Center, one of 31 buildings built by the CCC and still in use by the Park Service, although they were vacated, and the park closed to the public for a period during WWII (the strucutres were used to house scientists and personnel involved with the Manhattan Project). Inside the Visitor’s Center, the diaramas and interpretive displays are particularly informative.

It appears that we were mostly correct in our “assumptions”, as it relates to the construction of the Ansestral Pueblan “condos”. As we finish wandering the small but informative Visistor Center, my father appears, having just alighted from his crowded shuttle bus ride to canyon floor. More and more people arrive on their visit to Bandelier. For us, this place seems fairly remote, and we are suprised by the vigorous visitation.

img_20180917_130651291It is nearing noon, and after having already gone through the interpretive displays, we head off on the Falls Trail for a look at the falls (which were NOT running) and a peak at the Rio Grande. A volunteer docent allows us to use his trail guide, as long as we promise to return it. The difference, compared to the prior trails, is that this journey is one of geological exploration as opposed to archeological. We see examples of “tent rocks”, composite rocks and layering of ancient volcanic erruptions.

The fact that this creek is currently dry enables us to really examine the geological “history” of the “life” of this particular water cut path. Because of two significant fires to the area, the Cerro Grande Fire in May of 2000 (a “controlled” burn that got out of control) and the 2011 Las Conchas fire (tree fell on power lines and burned over 75% of the upper canyon) resulted in significant damage done to the vegetation and the soil which made for flashflooding of epic results during the heavy monsoon rainstorm of August 21, 2011, and another one in 2013.


Remaining portion of the Lower Falls trail, as it “empties” into the the Rio Grande

This flash flooding practically filled the canyon floor and further damaged the later portion of the Falls Trail, so that we could not walk past the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls and then down to the Rio Grande. We returned to the Visitor’s Center and returned our trail guide. We considered taking the shuttle back to the campground, however the bus was filled to the brim, and the thought of standing packed like sardines when we are perfectly able to walk, the now 3 miles, back up the Frey Trail to our campsite made our decision easier. As we exited the Visitor’s Center we lighted upon an Interpretitive Ranger eager to share her knowledge of this uniquie and special canyon. We walked and talked along the paved Main Loop Trail that leads to where we were to catch the Frey Trail. She told us of the Ancestral Pueblo people’s farming techniques where they planted crops in a simbiotic relationship methodology (ie. corn with beans, where the beans would grow up the corn stalks). How they had grid gardens that used low earthan walls or rocks for their perimeter to catch and slow the rainfall from washing away their seeds and seedlings, and how they used the local pumice churned into the plot’s soil to slow, “distribute” and/or retain, rainwater or watering by hand. She explained that most of what we see of the structures along the main loop has been excavated, and was mostly filled over with dirt and debris from 100’s of years of natural flooding of this canyon. They still have no definitive answers as to the explicit use of the round Kivas, some large and others much smaller. img_20180917_150000902What they do know is that on the canyon floor, in the late 1400’s (using the tree-ring method of dating via ceiling beam fragments) the bustling village of Tyuonyi was a thriving center of trade where they manufactured pottery, raised turkeys and rabbits, wove blankets and cultivated cotton. As one gentleman that accompanined us as we walked and talked with the Ranger, declared, “I don’t think of these people as primative anymore. This was a well thought out center of commerce.” While I never thought of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, or any other First Nations peoples as primative, I can’t help but be amazed at the craftsmanship of their structures, which using available resources, were engineered with purpose and functionality, brilliantly in tune with their enviroment to include its seasons and the route of the sun over top of the canyon.


With extra knowledge in tow, we continued along the main loop trail toward the bottom of the Frey Trail, but not without climbing through, up, and into several more rehabilitated structures and cliff dwellings wherein it was obvious that they (Ancestral Pueblo people) were much shorter and smaller in stature than Paul or I. In fact, based on graves and artifacts they averaged 5’4″ which is similar to the size and stature of the European peoples during the same time period. Filled to the brim with new knowledge and prespective, we marched up the Frey Trail back to our campsite, excitedly discussing all that we had seen…an 11 mile day. Upon return to the campsite, further discussion continued as my father had had the luxury, and took the time, to read every article of information displayed in/on the Visitor Center interpretive displays. While we saw as much as we could in one day, this park beckons for another visit, particularly during an absent moon; to walk additional trails within Bandelier in hopes of encountering one or more of the 2,000 documented archeological sites; and/or experience this park in winter (it’s open all year long with the exception of Christmas day and New Years). It would be an interesting perspective to experience this park with a “blanket” of snow… and maybe even take a few runs at the Pajarito Ski area.

Tomorrow we head to Los Alamos to visit the Manhatten Project National Historical Park, and the Bradbury Science Museum, then on to Chaco Canyon.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Bandelier National Monument, cliff dwellings, Mini Adventures, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


As promised, our late September mini-adventure has finallly made it to “press”.

What was supposed to be fishing trip to the Green River near the Wyoming/Utah border has been put aside for next year. Apparently we needed to plan ahead in order to get the guide and the river boat float/fishing session we wanted. Who’d a thought they’d be booked for the whole month already. But as we are fluid adventurers and refuse to waste an opportunity to recreate outdoors, we are on a 10 day road trip with my dad in his tricked out cab-over camper. This trip will be a road trip “wander” of the four corners area of the Southwest…mostly New Mexico. As my dad is quite the outdoorsman (and a consummate fish “whisperer”, hence why we normally do fishing trips), I have inherited his love of the outdoors “gene”, to include his love of maps. To Paul’s dismay, it appears I also have my father’s engineering traits which often surfaces in the form of over-planning, or more specifically, over packing. I believe it’s genetic marker is 1-OVRPKR. As such, I have the innate urge to be prepared for every variable. Luckily my mom carried the “Oh well, shit happens” and the “Why worry, it will all work out” genes that allows me to be comfortable with spontaneity and flying by the seat of my pants, when “over-ruled” on “contingency” packing items, even when said items would have been beneficial, albeit extra weight.

So, on this adventure we will “rough it” just a bit, but this mostly will be a glamping session interspersed with plenty of exploration.

Northwestern New Mexico will be first on the menu of exploration. Today we are headed to Bandelier National Monument of archeological significance, which is just outside of Los Alamos, the “Atomic” or “Secret” City, of immense scientific and world historical significance.

As we travel the I-25 from Las Cruces toward Santa Fe, small towns preceeded by ancient Adobe structures in various degrees of decay can be seen along the highway.

Vast swaths of rich green vegetation carve color into a mostly muted landscape. This area of New Mexico is much greener than we ever imagined, and certainly naturally greener than my neck of the woods, in So Cal. We pass an exit that points out a still drive-able portion of historic Route 66. It appears to follow alongside the Rio Grande river which feeds the greenery that is flanked on either side by what one can only describe as “classic” Western film scenery of sand and sage brush. At a rest stop, interpretive signs tell us about early discoveries of Gold and Turquoise.

Flat, arid plains of land carved by deep washes from monsoonal rains become pimpled with rising hills, and soon San Gabriel-esq (it’s a SoCal thing) mountains appear to our right.

Thunder clouds form on our horizon, as we are in the tail end of monsoon season.

We take the 550 around Santa Fe to the 84/285 exit toward Bandelier National Monument and Los Alamos. Once again the scenery changes dramatically into lumpy hills covered in mesquite. Pueblo style homes are discreetly tucked into, behind, and between the clusters of hills. Some blend in so well, you almost miss them, while others scream, “Look at Me!”. As we continue to gain in elevation, Ponderosa and Pinyon pines replace the mesquite.

We climb in elevation to near 7500 feet. From the 502 highway we have two options to get to Bandelier. Left, on the 4 hwy through White Rock, or stay on the 502 right through Los Alamos. We initially go left, but abort that route when we see a sign that says “Shuttle only to Bandelier”…oops.(Turns out we could have driven that way). We make our way toward Los Alamos on Hwy 502 which which comes to an abrupt halt at a heavily fortified guard gate, and becomes the NM501, which then becomes the 502 upon exiting another guarded gate, also referred to as Vehicle Access Portals (VAP). One can access these portals if one has a valid ID and/or a Federal/DOE badge. A point of great importance is that when accessing these portals, NO cameras, firearms, alcohol or illegal drugs are allowed in this area. Vehicles are also subject to search. Since we had alcohol, we decided to take the long-er way around. Not to worry, as “Martha”, my GPS gave me a work around, and after a jog around the gated area, we join back up with the 502. We wind through what looks like an Alpine Forest, with the entrance to the Pajarito Mountain ski area on our right, and a continuous string of chain link fencing, topped with barbed wire, on our left, that delineates the perimeter of the 34.7 square miles of DOE property in which the 13.5 acre Los Alamos National Laboratory, affectionately referred to as “The Lab”, is housed. The 502 comes to an end at Hwy 4, where we are to turn left. It is obvious that this intersection was once the guarded perimeter for Los Alamos, evidenced by an abandoned, yet fortified guard house, still property of DOE (Department of Energy).

It has a “Cold War” feel. On our right as we near Bandelier is Ponderosa Pine, Juniper trees, Pinyon Pine and other bushy green vegetation, all part of the Santa Fe National Forest and/or Bandelier. To our left, the same vegetation, but enclosed with barbed wire fencing adorned prominently with sign that read, “No Trespassing”, “Video Surveillance” and “Danger, High Explosives” (As in what? Hydrogen Bomb?) . WTF?! Part of me would have like to have “tested” the signs, but the smarter part of me thought better of it.

Juniper Campground – Coyote Loop , site #52

After a better part of a day driving, we finally pull into Bandelier National Monument, and find a “first come first served” camp spot in the Juniper Campground. After setting up, Paul and I walk back to the “Iron Ranger” to pay our camping fee. Since my father has a “Golden Eagle” pass, our camp fee is cut in half to a whopping $6/night. We will be staying two nights, but of course we forgot that, and paid for only one night, after seemingly re-creating that scene in Zoolander, where Derek and Hansel try and “break into” the computer.

The Iron Ranger is a hearty debit/credit card machine that directly faces the afternoon sun, so when wearing polarized sunglasses you can’t read the screen, and when you take off said prescription polarized sunglasses you can barely make out the faded small print, directing you on which of the four searing hot metal buttons to push to advance to the point of inserting your method of payment, and finally spitting out a valid campsite receipt. Add to that, we forgot what campsite we were in, so in exsaperation, we made an educated guess based on the posted campground map. We were relieved when we returned to our campsite that we had guessed correctly, but our triumph was quickly dashed when my dad reminded us that we were to have paid for two nights. Shit! About face we turn, this time beer in hand, and back to do battle and feel like a complete moron…with said machine. After several minutes of pounding on buttons, pushing “cancel” and pounding some more, it becomes clear that it is impossible to pay for the next night, once we’ve already paid and registered for our particular campsite. The earliest we would be able to do this would be 11am the next day. Grrr! We will be hiking well before that. I miss the “olden days” of live people and/or envelopes. Defeated we wander back to our campsite. Upon arrival we are now asked if we want a campfire, we should get some firewood. About face again. This time we are joined by my father who offers to help carry the wood, (located next to the Iron Ranger), back to the campsite. The wood is stacked high in single pieces, with a posted recommended donation of $1 a piece. Of course here, the donation is to be paid in cash to a metal lock box, not the pay machine. You guessed it, we had no cash on us…back to the campsite we trudge…wood in hand of course, to fetch some cash. Before heading back, we took a gander at the shuttle bus schedule, located nearby and found out that we could also take the 2mile 500ft descent, Frey Trail, down to the bottom of Frijoles Canyon where the Bandelier Visitor Center and the archeological sites are located.

All this unplanned walking (it was still 85+ degrees out), although frustrating, turned out to be a good way to acclimate to our 6670ft elevation (compared to sea level that we normally function at), and stretch our legs after our day long drive. As we sat around our picnic table, swatting at the plethera of flies (some ankle biters), in the still warm 80° evening, the camphost motored by in her motorized golf cart to advise/remind us of the evening’s highly recommended Ranger talk, “Dark Skies”. We told her about our failure to pre-pay for a second night and asked how/when we should do that. She laughed, “That happens all the time. As long as you leave something in the campsite and pay by 7pm tomorrow, it’s all good.”. We thanked her for her information and let out a sigh of relief as we had already planned to be down in the canyon well before the 11am posted payment “deadline”.

7:30 pm rolled around and although we were fairly gassed from the day’s travel, we wandered over to the amphitheater for the evening’s Ranger talk. Here we learned from (“ding”…sound of a bell, provided by Ranger Derek), an avowed “Astro-Geek” (Ranger Derek) about the birth and life of stars, and about how “small” our sun actually is compared to the rest of The Galaxy in which our tiny blue planet resides. After the “show” we were invited to peer through several telescopes that had been set up in the parking lot in which to view Saturn (and her rings), Jupiter (and its moons), Mars and the face of our prominently glowing half-moon. Bandelier National Monument is in the process of becoming “certified” as a “Dark Sky Park ” which in the star gazing Astro-Geek world is a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, the moon was a little too brite to get the full effect of a truly “dark sky”, but to see these planets “up close” was pretty cool, and to be able to identify their location in the sky, even better. Sadly, we also learn that all those pretty, dramatic and brilliant colors that we thought the above listed planets were supposed to look like is merely marketing by NASA.  There is color, but it is impossible for our eyes to pick up the wave lengths of light, it’s more like shades of black and white. White being the “color”,  as black is the absense of light/color. The high point for me was learning how to determine (by naked eye) between a planet and a star, and being able to identify where we landed on the moon. “Apparently the flag has fallen down”, joked the Ranger, obviously referring to the latest “Apollo” movie.

Having had enough enrichment for the day, we wandered back to our campsite for a solid night’s sleep, having decided that, in the morning, Paul and I would hike the Frey Trail down into Bandelier…proper.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Bandelier National Monument, cliff dwellings, Dark Sky Park, Los Alamos, Mini Adventures, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chaco Canyon – “Where’s Waldo”

After leaving Pueblo Bonito, we get back into our truck and head to the trail head at the end of the “road”. From here, we have three objectives. (1) Find as many petroglyphs as we can on the Petroglyph Trail. (2) Continue past the Petroglyph Trail to the Pictograph of what is believed to have chronicled a Supernova that occurred sometime around 1054 CE. (3) Continue from the Pictograph to Peñasco Blanco. Round trip, this should be about 8 miles. At the Visitor Center you can purchase a “backcountry” trail guide for $2. We regret not having done so. All “backcountry” trails in Chaco Canyon require a permit, which is free, as this park is “Day Use” only. They want to know who has been in the “backcountry” most likely for two reasons:(1) To make sure you’ve made it back to your vehicle and are not lost and wandering in the “desert”…with no water. Or have been attacked/eaten by the area’s resident mountain lion. (2) They will know who to question if sites have been damaged/disturbed, or pilfered. We complete the triplicate permit, dropping one in the box, one to the car and the other we carry with us. The trail is wide, flat, and is unpaved. From here, if you have a bicycle (mountain), you can ride to the foot of Kin Kletso, which is another structural complex, much “newer” than Pueblo Bonito.

Obviously, because of its “popularity”, additional “neighborhoods” needed to be built. In fact this canyon has over 2000 “neighborhoods” of varying size and decay, most have not been excavated.


We briefly examine this structure, if only to compare construction styles.


From here, we then continue down the now narrow dirt trail that runs at the foot of the canyon’s south-facing cliff walls. We look in earnest for ancient “graffitti”. It is said that only certain persons within each clan/tribe were “allowed” or it was “acceptable” to create the petroglyphs we are about to see, as they are often of “sacred” significance.


Not far into the trail we spy our first petrogylphs. We do our best to “interpret” what we see.

We should have bought the trail guide! We move along the 1 mile section, making a point to look up, and putting to use the binoculars we have borrowed from my father.

Some petroglyphs are “easy” to spy, while others require a “Where’s Waldo” approach, looking for patterns of placement and/or markings not occurring in nature. Much has faded/eroded, sluffed off and/or become damaged from cliff failures overtime. Toward the “end” of the trail we see evidence of “current” markings upon/in the cliff walls along with the ancient markings.




At first we are disgusted, but then under further examination we realize that these marking are ironically from the early 1900’s and the US Geological survey team leaving their, “I was here”, markings.

One even left a “note”, for a colleague. We wonder aloud, why/how this particular 1 mile stretch contained so many markings by the Chacoan people. Again, we lament the fact we do not have a guide…in case it holds some kind of “answer”. Surely there are more places with even more prolific etchings.


We continue from the end of the row of petroglyphs toward a pictograph (painted picture) on the north facing canyon wall, of what is understood to be a recording of a Supernova event, that would have been seen for days by the Chacoan people. The trail is narrow and sandy in parts, but not as well traveled as the trail along the petrogylphs.

We are glad that the skies are overcast and the air is much cooler than “normal”, as it would be foolish to walk this route at mid-day, as we do now. The trail wanders, for us, unnecessarily, as there is evidence of re-routing, most likely due to “over-use” and to rehabilitate vegetation.


We drop down into a “dry” gulch still muddy in parts from last evening/morning rain, and follow the trail as it climbs out and heads to the foot of the cliff walls. For some reason we were expecting a much larger pictograph. In fact, without the wooden sign directly underneath it, one could easily miss it, especially if one was not “looking” for it.



Much erosion must have taken place, for unless the “artist” stood on a ladder, such placement would have been prohibative.

From here we continue a tenuous trail to Peñasco Blanco.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Chaco Canyon, Mini Adventures, New Mexico, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Put a fork in it

Final Day: 6.4 miles

Still inside our tent, not really wanting to get up, we heard a bit of scurrying outside our tent. It was obvious that the sun was up, and so was Scout, for outside of our tent I heard him say, “Sorry Dee, I just have to do this. Paul will appreciate this though.”, and he proceeds to play John Denver’s “Annie”. He and Paul enjoy this song immensely, whilst Pole Dancer and I just cringe (and moan) over it…any John Denver song for that matter. Well that does it, there’s no goin back to sleep. We pack up our gear as quickly as we can inside our tent, as the morning air is significantly cooler than we have experienced the last two nights. I make a point to stretch my thighs and calves before exiting the tent, hoping that it will provide me with more balanced footing, for when I got up to go pee during the night, my calves were so tight I lost my balance and almost fell onto Josh and April’s tent. No need to repeat that again. img_20180816_0746568281Breakfast, as usual, was at a leisurely pace, full of conversation and laughter. Soon it was time to “saddle-up”, and on came Americs’s ‘“Horse with No Name”. This has been the morning “rally” song. Meaning, you got 2 minutes to finish up cause we got to get a move on. IMG_0712We thread out of the campground with a short rock hop over a stream on our way to the river bridge that leads us out to our final ascent into Tuolumne Meadows. We meander up the trail, stopping to take photos along the way.

This is the most closely spaced we have been the whole trip. Maybe if we stick closely together, we can keep this wonderful week from ending. The sky is azure blue. Not a trace of haze or smoke is evident.

Surprisingly our feet and legs are mostly free of aches and pains. Go figure. It’s our last day, and they (our feet and legs) are finally “broken in”. The miles click by and so do ‘day-hikers’. A tasty cheeseburger at the Tuolumne Meadows store “floats” in front of us, like a carrot on a stick. Our packs feels like day packs. We stop and hydrate from time to time, as well as “snap” a plethra of photos as “souvenirs” of our time together.


Josh and I hang back a bit, perusing my Yosemite High Country Map, planning next years’ adventure in Yosemite. My Adventure “bucket list” includes hiking most, if not all, of the trails in Yosemite. Like eating an “elephant”, you gotta do so one “bite” at a time. As we come to our final climb, we meet a group of Boys Scout’s just starting out on a several day backpacking trip. Ironically they are dressed in the same color combination that Ken is. As we let them pass we make sure they tell Ken that he’s “going the wrong way”…his attire says he should be with their group…Boy Scout’s belt buckle and all.


The trail flattens out from here and eventually widens into a massive meadow, and Soda Springs where people used to come to drink “healing” fizzy water and camp. The end of trail comes into view, and April and Katie take off in a full sprint toward the gate. The pull of a cheeseburger is strong with these two.  After retrieving our “smellibles” from the bear locker, we pile into our cars for the short drive to the store and non-rehydrated food.

IMG_1412.JPGCheeseburgers, fries and a coke is the “soup de jour”. A chocolate vanilla ice cream swirl cone is first on the agenda for me though. Best cone I’ve ever had, especially since it was in a cup. After eating, we divide and conquer once again. Pole Dancer will ride with April, Josh, Katie and Ken, return the bear canisters and then head to the Mammoth house, where we will “recuperate” the next two days. Paul will take Scout to his car at White Wolf, while Kaleb and I have volunteered to hang at the store…and drink beer. (Actually we walked to the Visitors Center and back, and got a patch for Katie…then drank beer). In no time we were all reunited at the Mammoth house, showered and off to Roberto’s for dinner and margaritas. Seeing that Katie, Kaleb and Ken had a return flight Saturday morning, they, as well as Josh and April (who were staying in the OC a few more days) head back the next morning (Friday) so its not such a mad dash to get them to the airport. Meanwhile, back at the “ranch”, Scout has a tremendous idea. Let’s go to Bishop and explore. Our plan is to walk from one end of the Main Street (Hwy 395) to the end and back the other side. We’ve driven through this town for years. It’s high time we see what’s there, besides two bakeries (Schatts and Big Basin) and a brewery.

We literally walked into every sporting goods, food, art and “iconic” downtown Bishop locations, to include the 395 sign shop, a vintage coin/memorabilia store, the was Mountain Rambler Brewery, and Rusty’s Saloon, where I redeemed a drink chip, that was given to me by the bar’s owners (Mike and Michelle) who were eating at the Alabama Hills Cafe in Lone Pine, the same time we (girl’s ski trip 2017) were. Somehow I got to talking with them (my mom taught me well, the “art” of talking to strangers), and that led to them pulling out two drink chips and telling me to “stop by” next time we are passing through Bishop. Well, this was the perfect opportunity as it was hotter than a “stack of black cats”, and Rusty’s was air conditioned and well stocked with refreshing beer, some “regulars” and a $1 pool table.

Several beers, three rounds of pool (Paul and I won all of them, not withstanding a “trick shot” I’m sure I could never replicate…Or could I?), and a mini celebration of the day Paul “lost his mind” and proposed to me, some 33 years ago. Beverages were followed by Burgers and made to order shakes at a unique burger stand, the Bishop Burger Barn, just off the beaten path and definitely worthy of repeat patronage.

(Let’s just say this place reminds me of Belden Town in Northern California.)

Well, another memorable 2moremiles adventure in the bag. One of my favorites, thus far.


Can’t wait to get this “band” back together for another go at…adventure. Time to clean up and plan for another trip. Can you say…September? I knew you could.

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Tuolumne Meadows, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments